Bose might be the king of noise-cancelling headphones, but Apple is also staking its own claim in the audio market as the king of wireless earbuds. This face-off compares these two brands’ latest releases in the true wireless category to decide the better noise-cancelling option.
The AirPods Pro remains a top-seller and one of the best noise-cancelling headphones available. Tom’s Guide has even awarded the buds a perfect 5-star rating for their stellar overall performance. How Apple managed to squeeze surprisingly good ANC technology and improved sound into a more functional, ergonomic design is quite the engineering feat.
A newbie to the scene, the QuietComfort Earbuds continue to build buzz, with favorable reviews from heralded tech publications. In our review, we praised the model for its remarkable ANC, great sound, and even greater call quality. Whether these hallmarks are enough to make Bose’s tiny noise-cancellers the new market favorite, well, that’s what we’re about to find out right now.
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Specs compared
AirPods ProBose QuietComfort EarbudsPrice$249.00$279.95ColorsWhiteTriple Black, SoapstoneBattery life (rated)4.5 hours, 24 hours (with charging case)6 hours, 18 (with charging case)Size and weight1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches, 0.19 ounces1.5 x 1 x 1.1 inches, 0.3 ouncesDurabilityIPX4 (water and sweat resistance)IPX 4 (water and sweat resistance)Special featuresActive noise cancellation, Transparency Mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, wireless chargingAdjustable active noise cancellation, Active EQ technology, Transparency Mode, Bluetooth 5.1, Self Voice calling mode, wireless charging
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Price and value
When shopping for the best wireless earbuds, it’s a matter of which pair offers the most bang for your buck. However, you’re looking at two models that fall within the luxury price point: $250 and over. This makes the decision even more difficult.
If it is ease of use with solid active noise cancelling, features, and iOS functionality that you want, then the $249 AirPods Pro is the way to go. If it’s adjustable, best-in-class noise cancellation and call quality, pursue the $279 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Just remember that either investment comes at a premium.
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Design
Shape is a critical factor when examining the design of wireless earbuds. That being said, we’re fine saying that neither the long-stem form of the AirPods Pro, nor the wide-sized frame of the QuietComfort Earbuds is attractive. Period.
Nonetheless, the AirPods Pro has a slight edge in the looks department, and not because of its smaller size. Apple did an awesome job creating its system-in-package (SIP) design, which houses the H1 chip and ANC circuitry in a more compact frame. Construction-wise, these aren’t very durable buds, but this version of the AirPods comes with sweat and water resistance and was built from eco-friendly materials, something many green thumbs will appreciate.
The most significant change comes in the redesigned sound port, which now supports ear tips to establish a more stabilized fit. Apple also developed its own Ear Tip Fit Test to determine the proper fit for optimized noise cancellation. You don’t see that type of commitment from many wireless earbuds makers. When worn, the AirPods Pro rests pleasantly on the ears and can be worn for about 3 hours straight before fatigue starts setting in.
Bose has a reputation for constructing premium audio products, and though the QuietComfort Earbuds are durable, they won’t win over style mongers. The high-end composite plastic casing comes IPX4-certified to keep the internals protected from sweat and water. There are IR sensors built into the buds as well for on-ear-detection. It’s just unfortunate that their minimalist appearance looks dull compared to some of the funky designs Bose offered on its previous wireless earbuds, the Bose SoundSport Free.
Speaking of which, the QuietComfort Earbuds happen to share nearly the same dimensions as their predecessor, which also makes them huge, and affects comfort. They are heavy at 0.3 ounces and the elongated sound port applies pressure on the concha after about 45 minutes of listening. On the plus side, Bose’s StayHear Max silicone ear tips and ear fins help to achieve a personalized fit, meaning the buds will stay in place when properly adjusted.
Comparing the charging cases is like night and day, mainly because of the size difference. The AirPods Pro charging case is lighter, smaller, and looks more fashionable to carry around. It’s also a scratch-n-scuff magnet that does a poor job with securing the buds; dropping it to the ground will send the buds flying across the floor.
If you think Bose’s earbuds are big, then consider the charging case massive. Basically, it’s a huge plastic block that is more than double the size of Apple’s case. It is certainly the least portable-friendly of the two, though it has one appealing feature that simplifies connectivity via Bluetooth button on the inside.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Controls
Apple ditched its touch controls in favor of a new pinch gesture system that is located at the bottom of each stem, which registers multiple presses for playback and call management. It takes some getting used to at first, but once mastered, it’s easy to operate and works much better than you’d think. On-ear detection is also available to automatically pause music when removing the buds and resume play when placed back on the ears.
Where the AirPods Pro really outperforms the QuietComfort Earbuds is digital assistant support. The “Hey Siri” feature is flawless and produces accurate results. Apple’s mics demonstrate great speech recognition and pick up vocals superbly. This feature is exclusive to Apple devices. Apple makes it difficult to use the digital assistant feature on other platforms, but you can download third-party apps (e.g. Assistant Trigger) if you want to use Google Assistant on Android devices.
Bose opted for touch controls, which are responsive, but also limited to double taps and long presses. There are no single- or triple-tap gestures available on the QuietComfort Earbuds. Only the left bud is customizable, and you can only set two out of three functions: switch ANC presets (long press) and skip a track/hear battery levels (2x tap). On-ear detection isn’t memorable either due to its latency issues; expect a 1.50-second delay before music pauses/resumes.
Where Bose makes up for the controls is in the digital assistant, which employs Bose’s excellent mic array to pick up vocals clearly and block out external sounds. Siri and Google Assistant work well, registering commands correctly, and responding to inquiries super-fast. Bixby and Cortana are also compatible with Bose’s buds. We just find “Hey Siri” more serviceable.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Audio quality
Bose is more known for its audio than Apple, and the QuietComfort Earbuds deliver sonic goodness. They boast a similar frequency curve to the Bose 700that produces fine-tuned sound with plenty of detail and crisp midrange.
Bass is emphatic on upbeat R&B tracks like Mary J. Blige’s “You Bring Me Joy.” The kick drums and bass guitar complement Mary’s carefree and cheering melodies. Jazz classics like McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace” are even more resonant, with great resolution that brings every instrument front and center. The melodic piano and sax play just sounds so clean and lively.
The AirPods Pro is no slouch with music either, giving listeners clean, warm sound to enjoy playlists on the go. Lows are solid on high-energy tracks like Green Day’s “Basket Case,” which reproduces the guitar riffs and incessant hi-hat clashes surprisingly well, while the vocal arrangements on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York” are soothing with an irresistible timbre.
Apple has also added spatial audio to the AirPods Pro’s arsenal, a sweet upgrade that is available in the current iOS 14 update. This new feature creates a theater-like surround sound experience that immerses the listener to make the them feel more like they’re a part of the cinematic action taking place on the screen. It’s impressive and also works with a handful of content platforms, including Apple TV+, Disney Plus, and HBO Max.
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Active noise cancellation
This is what you really came for. So, which pair of earbuds is considered the better noise-cancelling solution? Surprise, surprise: the ones with Bose branding on the front.
Bose was able to bless the QuietComfort Earbuds with almost the same ANC performance as its flagship 700 headphones, and with half the mics. You can choose and adjust 10 levels of noise cancellation, as well as save and cycle through three of your preferred levels on the left earbud. This is all done through the companion app (more on that later).
All you need to know is that nothing tops it on the truly wireless front. The buds block out vast amounts of ambient sounds across the frequency spectrum. Setting them at max level (10) will offer the best results and silence common distractions (e.g. chatty commuters, door buzzers), while also minimizing loud, blaring noises (e.g. ambulance sirens, construction tools).
ANC even blends into Transparency Mode (set to level 5), which makes ambient noises sound more distinctive and less harsh. It’s a feature that comes in handy when going out on nighttime walks and sharing office space at home; I was able to hear and comply with my pregnant wife’s requests without stopping music.
The AirPods Pro are still great for noise neutralization — much better than you thought any Apple audio product ever could handle. It’s just not Bose caliber. Apple’s two-mic noise-cancelling system is powerful and capable of blocking out 80% of external sounds. At home, I was able to drown out many distractions, ranging from FedEx deliveries to loud TVs. The technology is effective outdoors as well, though high-frequency sounds like car alarms and whistles will make their way onto the soundstage.
Apple’s Transparency Mode is also useful when you want to have brief chats with neighbors and hear what’s happening around you simultaneously. I do recommend it if you plan on working out with the AirPods Pro, so you can hear traffic much more clearly when exercising outside.
Winner: Bose QuietComfort Buds
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Apps and special features
Apple doesn’t get enough credit for integrating the AirPods into its phenomenal iOS ecosystem. Having the ability to access features that work across all iDevices without the need for a companion app is as practical as it gets, and the AirPods Pro has a sufficient number of features right out of the box that continues to grow with every new iOS update.
The aforementioned “Hey Siri” function and spatial audio are stellar additions that make engagement with your iPhone more fun, especially the latter when watching videos. Another major update introduced in iOS 14 is automatic switching, which lets users swap between audio sources easily as long as those iDevices are paired to the same iCloud account. Other notable features include improved battery management and Audio Share to share audio between two pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones. Here are some other cool AirPods Pro tricks worth checking out.
We still want Apple to give us an adjustable EQ and we continue to hold our breath. In the meantime, there’s the option to modify audio in the iPhone settings with 20 different presets. The QuietComfort Buds offer zero personalized sound. You can play around with the sound settings in Spotify, but this is something that can be applied to any pair of wireless earbuds.
The Bose Connect app brings a handful of features to the QuietComfort Earbuds such as a slider to manually adjust noise cancellation. There are also toggles for ANC, on-ear detection, voice assistance, and voice prompts. The app’s biggest feature outside of adjustable ANC is Self Voice Mode to let you hear yourself louder on phone calls.
Sadly, two key features are missing on the QuietComfort Earbuds and exclusive to the Bose 700: an adjustable EQ and Auto-Off option to put the buds in sleep mode when inactive. Bose has yet to confirm if either will be available in a future update.
We would complain about the lack of multipoint technology on Bose’s earbuds, but the feature is also missing on Apple’s buds.
Winner: AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Call quality
These are the two of the top calling headsets out there. Which is the superior model? The QuietComfort Earbuds. Bose’s mic array is a thing of beauty, bringing the clarity and crispness that everyone desires when answering calls, and it does a phenomenal job of blocking out external sounds when chatting in loud environments. Speaking with three different clients and my wife, they all thought I was speaking directly from my smartphone.
The AirPods Pro grants exceptional call quality too. The buds produce clear-sounding calls in any environment and have great wind resistance for chatting in drafty conditions. The H1 chip also gives the buds 50% more talk time, which is clutch since battery life is mediocre. But if there is one thing that Bose’s earbuds do better, it is blocking out high-frequency sounds.
Winner: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Battery Life and charging case
Noise cancellation is a battery drainer, so it isn’t surprising to hear that neither set of earbuds provides lengthy playtimes. The QuietComfort Earbuds last longer on a full charge, giving you about 5.5 hours when factoring in ANC, high volume, and heavy streaming. The AirPods Pro is shorter at 4.5 hours, which is disappointing since the AirPods 2 is rated higher at 5 hours.
Quick charging is something you’ll want to look at as well when choosing a model, as the AirPods Pro generates 1 hour on a 5-minute charge, whereas the QuietComfort Earbuds gets you 2 hours on a 15-minute charge. Clearly, Apple’s buds recharge more quickly, though this is still less powerful than Beats’ Fast Fuel technology, which juices up the Powerbeats Pro with 4.5 hours on a 15-minute charge and should have been integrated into the AirPods Pro.
Apple’s charging case is much smaller than Bose’s, yet it houses more portable power: 24 hours. This equates to 5 extra charges. The QuietComfort Earbuds case holds 18 hours for about 3 extra charges. Do the math and you’ll see that the AirPods Pro promises more extended play.
Both charging cases are wireless and work with any Qi-certified wireless chargers. The pros and cons of each model pretty much cancel each other out.
AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Verdict
Realistically, the battle between the AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds can be divided into two categories: active noise cancellation and overall performance. If you want the absolute best-in-class noise cancellation in true wireless form, then Bose is your brand. However, Apple offers the more complete package, with the AirPods Pro giving listeners sound and noise cancellation that surpasses expectations, along with better features and comfort.AirPods ProBose QuietComfort EarbudsPrice and value (5)33Design (15)1210Controls (10)86Audio quality (20)1818Active noise cancelation (20)1720Special features and apps (15)1311Call quality (5)45Battery life and charging case (10)77Total score (100)8280
Bose did what we thought was an insurmountable task and engineered its flagship earbuds with Bose 700-like noise cancellation. Kudos! It’s something that needs to be experienced firsthand, so you can hear what it’s like to enjoy full, detailed sound in peace. The ability to blend ANC with ambient listening is innovative as well, but most owners will likely take the feature for granted. Don’t. But in the end, it’s clear that Bose chose to continue mastering its strengths and ignoring its weaknesses. That’s why Apple takes the win.
All Rights Reserved for Alex Bracetti